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2005 Questions & Answers

10/20/05

Several people wonder what preparations you are making for Hurricane Wlima and how the hurricane might affect the mission’s research plan.
We are watching Wilma closely. Our priority is keeping everyone safe and the second priority is getting as much of our research done as possible. Right now we anticipate working through Saturday and then heading into one of the larger ports in South Carolina or Georgia. Of course this plan will change as we get new information about the proposed track and speed of the hurricane. The captain makes the decision about when we head to port. Of course, he works with the science crew to choose the option that should give the least impact to the mission. Wilma could greatly interfere with our planned media day on Tuesday. We may just have the media visit us in port!

Connie from Alaska wonders if you will sample around the Charleston Bump.
We will be doing some work on and around the Charleston Bump. This prominent geologic feature sticks out into the ocean and forces the Gulf Stream east around it. This creates all sorts of interesting currents and habitats under the sea. As its name suggests, the Charleston Bump is off the coast of Charleston, SC. In 2001, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration participated in a mission called Islands in the Stream. Several explorations of the Charleston Bump were made during Leg 5 (September 26–September 29 , 2001) of this mission.

Lucinda from Tennessee sends:

We know that whales and dolphins make sounds audible to humans. Are there any other ocean creatures that make sounds? Can you hear them when you are in the submersible?
There are many types of fish, such as drums and croakers, who make noises. They tend to make these noises during their spawning run as a way of attracting mates. These sounds have been heard by people in houses on the shore. The fish make sounds with their swim bladder. Scientists are just beginning to look into fish sounds. When we are in the sub we really don't hear any sounds made by things in the surrounding water. It is very noisy inside the sub because of the thrusters and the mechanical arm.

Kayla, a third grader from Randolph county, has a few questions:

What have you found in the nets?
In the Neuston Net we find animals that are most common at the surface. Most of these are very small fish that are usually near Sargassum, a very unique brown seaweed. Sargassum has little air bladders that keep it floating. One of the fish we have found is the Sargassum fish which lives its entire life in this seaweed.

Are your beds hard?
The beds aren't hard—they are quite comfortable. Generally we sleep in bunk beds, with either two or four people per room. Our rooms are air-conditioned, so we appreciate the comforters on our bunks.

What fish have you seen during your submarine dives?
We have seen lots of different kinds of fish. The blackbelly rosefish is very commonly seen in some areas. We also see bright orange beryx and dark gray conger eels. We have seen both small skates and large rays and a few sharks.

A third grader from Randoloph county asks:

Do you like it so far?
Everyone on board is enjoying it so far. We have had good weather and are getting lots of research done. Our meals are delicious and we have had lots of things to laugh about.

Is it cold or hot?
The temperature outside has been just about perfect—usually in the 70s with lots of sun. In the sub it is also comfortable. It can get a little chilly in the back (stern) but if you wear a sweatshirt it is usually fine.

Do you know everyone?
Yes, we all know each other very well by now. The ship is a small space on which to live, so we know all the ships' crew, sub crew, and science team. Even though we work different shifts we usually eat breakfast and dinner together. To be a successful mission we all need to work together.

Ruslan, Sasha, and Victor, eleventh graders from Voronezh, Russia, have several questions:

How much time can the sub be underwater?
The submarine runs on a battery. If we are in an area with very weak currents, the sub can stay down for four hours. If there are strong currents and we have to use a great deal of power to move around, then the dive can be much shorter. If an emergency that interferes with the ability of the sub to return to the surface, there is enough food, water, and carbon dioxide scrubbers for us to stay down for five days.

Does the sub have windows or do you study the ocean floor with special cameras?
We use both to study the ocean floor. The front (bow) of the sub is a large plexiglass sphere and the scientist can see out almost all the way around—up, down, and side to side. The view from the back (stern) of the sub is blocked. In the stern, the scientist can see out two small windows, called portholes, on either side of the vessel. We also use special cameras to record what we see. We have a camera mounted on the front of the sub that can move and tilt to get pictures of most anything. The scientist inside the sphere also records things with a small handheld video camera. In addition, there is a still camera on the front of the sub and a video camera on the back of the sub. Usually the scientist carries a still camera inside the sub as well.

Additional information on the Johnson-Sea-Link can be found on the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution's website.

Do you like your job? Would you like to go to space?
Everyone out here appears to enjoy their jobs. Everyone has very different careers but we all work together to make this mission a success. There are people who study fish, people who study invertebrates, and people who specialize in corals. There are folks mapping our course with GIS and folks keeping up with all of the data we collect. In addition, the ship’s crew and the sub’s crew have their own responsibilities. Any one of us would probably like to go to space but our careers have led us to studying the ocean.

Can sun rays be seen from the sub?
Yes, from the surface to about 200 meters. The water is very, very blue and it gets darker and darker as you descend. It is pitch black at the depth we study. As we return to the surface, we turn off the sub lights and watch bioluminescent organisms until we reach the depth at which the sunlight begins to penetrate the water column.

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